The best hitter in the Major Leagues today stands 5'11" and weighs around 170 pounds. And he is not a home run hitter.
Manny Ramirez receives a lot of credit for being the “best hitter in baseball.” If it is not him, it is Albert Pujols or David Ortiz. But the three of these have a common thread—they are all home run hitters.
There is no doubt that the home run is the highlight of a baseball game. It is the same as a slam dunk. Both are explosive and quickly garner attention. Fundamental defense in basketball or an infield single just do not have the same pop.
But home runs do not make a baseball player a great hitter. Adam Dunn can blast 40+ home runs, but do so with a .260 batting average.
The best hitter in baseball right now is not a home run hitter, although he did hit a grand slam on Wednesday. As of this very moment, Ichiro Suzuki is the best hitter in baseball.
Ichiro tends to be overlooked for a couple of reasons. First off, the Seattle Mariners have been god-awful over the past few seasons, so the Mariners do not receive a lot of face time on ESPN. Also, the fact that he does not jack a lot of home runs likely leads people to not think of him immediately when they think of “hitters.”
But if players like Pujols are going to be examined due to their power, then Ichiro's attributes—his speed and his vision—should also count. And when you break it down, at the very least, Ichiro should be in the conversation for the game's best hitter.
Take a deeper look, and you will see that the numbers speak for themselves. As a means of providing a comparison, I will include numbers for Pujols, Ramirez, and Ortiz.
Through Wednesday's games, the career batting averages of these four players are as follows:
- Pujols - .334
- Ichiro - .331
- Ramirez - .314
- Ortiz - .286
So Pujols has a better batting average than any of the four. But Pujols draws quite a lot of walks compared to Ichiro. In fact, the three sluggers draw nearly twice as many walks than Ichiro. Ichiro is going for the hit, which can be his Achilles' heel at times.
Nevertheless, let’s look at hits per game...
- Ichiro - 1.41 hits per game
- Pujols - 1.24
- Ramirez - 1.14
- Ortiz - 1.02
In this case, Ichiro is able to get a hit in a game more often than Pujols or Manny or Big Papi. BUT, the argument against this stat is that Ichiro is a leadoff hitter and tends to receive more at-bats than the other hitters. For example, Ichiro has 4.27 at-bats versus 3.7 for Pujols. But then again, a walk takes away an at-bat. So it could go either way.
But speaking of walks, some claim that intentional walks speak to the threat great hitters present. Big Papi and Manny and Pujols being intentionally walked is well publicized, but in 2008 Ichiro was intentionally walked as many times as Ortiz (12). And, remember, Ichiro’s speed makes him a threat to steal second (if put on with no one on base) or create difficulties in turning a double play.
Well, perhaps we should look at hits in a season. Knowing that Ichiro has hit for more than 200 hits in each of his eight MLB seasons, you should know where this is going. But here are the stats for average hits per season:
- Ichiro - 225.6
- Pujols - 191.4
- Ramirez - 153.7
- Ortiz - 145.6
Now, I only took seasons that the players participated in a large number of games. So I did remove some of the “empty” seasons that Ortiz played in Minnesota. Nevertheless, Ichiro tops this list as well.
And, if you want to cling to HRs—something that Ichiro does not hit often—and use that as a measuring stick, then let’s look at something Pujols, Ramirez, and Ortiz do not do often—triples.
For every triple that Pujols, Ramirez, and Ortiz hit, Ichiro hits 4.8, 5.9, and 5.0 triples respectively. Conversely, for every home run that Ichiro hits, Pujols, Ramirez and Ortiz hit 4.5, 4.3, and 3.8 home runs. So Ichiro is more likely to hit a home run than Pujols, Ramirez, or Ortiz are to hit a triple.
What does that mean? Nothing. It just shows how arbitrary using home runs to define the best hitter in baseball really is. So hits—no matter if that hit is a single or a home run—are the only thing that matters when it comes to the “best hitter in baseball.” So, let’s go deeper into Ichiro’s hits.
Keep in mind that Ichiro has over 3,000 hits during his tenure in professional baseball. Well, 3,085 hits to be exact, which sets the record for hits by a Japanese player.
People tend to disregard this stat because around 40 percent of the hits occurred in Japan. They argue that the quality of play in the NPB is not the same as the MLB (although I am sure that Japan would quickly point out that they are now a two-time winner of the World Baseball Classic).
But 3,000 hits is still an impressive feat in baseball. And, keep in mind, the NPB plays about 20 games fewer than the MLB. In fact, Ichiro averaged more hits in Japan (177.4 per full season) than Ramirez and Ortiz averaged in the U.S. Furthermore, his average hits per season throughout his entire professional career (203.1) is higher than Pujols’ average!!
Is this not enough proof that Ichiro is the best hitter in baseball!?
Number 51 also holds the single-season hit record in BOTH Japan (210) and the United States (262). In 2004, when Ichiro passed George Sisler for the MLB single-season hit record, some claimed that he did it only because Major Leaguers play in more games today than during Sisler’s time. While true, consider the following:
Ichiro had an astonishing 46 more hits than Michael Young, who had 216 hits in 2004. Also, and more importantly, Sisler’s record stood for 84 years!!! Even with more games in an MLB season, no one recently came close to the record until 2001...when Ichiro hit 242!
[Darin Erstad did have 240 hits in 2000, and Wade Boggs had the same number in 1985. Before that, no one had come close since 1930!]
If you are looking solely at hitting, then there is little question that Ichiro is the best hitter in baseball today. I am not claiming he is the greatest hitter of all time. Just like with Tiger Woods, I am not calling someone the “greatest” of anything while they are still competing.
But considering that he will likely have 200 hits for a record ninth consecutive season, Ichiro is by far the best hitter playing in the Majors today.